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Photo courtesy of Nadja Endler | Photography, Houzz

Succulents are making a splash as indoor container plants. An increasing number of what were once considered dry-climate outdoor succulents can now be found taking center stage inside the home, thanks to their love of dry, warm climates and tolerance for a little neglect.

If you’d like to start your own indoor succulent garden — and have an area that receives hours of bright, direct sunlight — here are five choices that are likely to thrive.

1. Medicinal Aloe (Aloe vera)
Also known as Barbados aloe, medicinal aloe can do double duty as both an easy-care houseplant and a go-to source for soothing bites, inflammation, and burns, especially sunburns.

It has stiff, upright leaves that grow in a clump-like, rosette form. Look for hybrids that will stay small for indoor display.

Care: Plant in well-draining soil and place in a spot that gets bright, indirect light. A south-facing window is ideal, but they’ll also do well in a east- or west-facing location. They do best in indoor temperatures of 55 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

Water every three weeks or so, or when the soil is dry from one to two inches deep, and let drain thoroughly; the plant should never sit in water. Water less in the winter. Feed with a balanced fertilizer at half-strength every month to six weeks in spring and summer to encourage growth.

Caution: While aloe is great as an external lotion, it shouldn’t be ingested by humans or pets — the symptoms can be unpleasant to toxic.

2. Donkey Tail (Sedum morganianum)
Donkey tail, also called burro’s tail, was made for hanging containers. The stems are lined with tightly packed, fat, gray-green leaves that can reach four feet in length, giving the plant its common name. Use it as a single plant or let it drape over the edges of a mixed container. S. burrito, sometimes sold as S. Burro, is slightly fatter, while the giant donkey tail, which may be sold as S. orpetti, has slightly shorter stems with thicker leaves.

Because donkey tail stores water in its leaves, choose a sturdy container and hang it securely so its weight won’t be a problem.

Care: Choose a well-draining, neutral-to-slightly acidic soil, and place the container in a spot where it will get at least four to six hours of bright light, such as a sunny south- or west-facing window. It does best in temperatures between 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit in summer and temperatures down to 55 degrees in winter. You can also provide a little less light during the winter months.

Let the soil dry out between waterings, then water thoroughly and let the soil drain completely. Cut back slightly on watering in winter. Feed monthly with a half-strength balanced fertilizer in spring and summer.

Tip: The stems of donkey tail break off easily, so keep your plant where it will be safe from being accidentally brushed against.

3. Hens-and-Chicks (Sempervivum spp.)
It’s not surprising that hens-and-chicks, or houseleeks, have made the transition from cold-hardy outdoor succulents to indoor succulent garden star. They do well in the temperatures and lower humidity levels of most homes, and you can easily mix them in a container garden with other succulents or show them off on their own.

Thanks to the growing number of hybrids, in addition to the familiar species, you can now find hens-and-chicks in a wide range of colors, from red and maroon to chartreuse, blue, and purple.

Care: Give these mountain-area natives fast-draining soil and at least six hours of bright, direct sunlight. Their color may fade with less light. They do best in temperatures from 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit during the day but can handle very cold temperatures at night.

Water sparingly, allow the container to drain completely, and let the soil dry out between waterings (water again if the plant shows signs of shriveling). Feed with a balanced water-soluble fertilizer at one-quarter strength four times during spring and summer.

The mother plant will die off in four to six years, but you can easily repot the “chicks” once they appear to start new plants.

Tip: Echeveria elegans and echeveria hybrids are also sold as hens-and-chicks. They’re very similar in looks and can be given the same care.

4. Jade Plant (Crassula ovata)
You might bring a jade plant into your home as a small houseplant, but give it the right conditions and you’ll end up with a striking, 4-foot-tall, treelike houseplant with glossy, plump green leaves and a thick, sturdy trunk and stems. These qualities, along with its easy-to-care-for nature, are the reason jade plants remain a popular houseplant choice.

Care: Choose a wide and sturdy pot, as their tree-like canopy makes them top-heavy. Use a well-draining potting mix and place in a spot that gets at least four hours of sunlight; a south-facing window is ideal. Jade plants with variegated leaves will need less light. Keep out of drafts and away from cold windows in winter. They grow best in temperatures from 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit, with temperatures as low as 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit in winter.

Water thoroughly about once or twice a month, when the top soil is dry to the touch, making sure the water drains well and the plant isn’t sitting in water. Cut back somewhat in winter. Wrinkled leaves indicate under-watering.

Feed every other month with a balanced water-soluble fertilizer at half-strength, adding it when the soil is wet to encourage growth, though you can get by with less. Wipe leaves with water and a soft cloth to keep them dust-free.

Tip: Look for slightly smaller growers, such as C. ovata "Minima" or C. ovata "Crosby’s Dwarf."

5. Zebra Plant (Haworthiopsis fasciata, Haworthia fasciata)
The zebra plant may not be big, usually only reaching about 6 inches tall, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in style. Its rigid, triangular, 3-inch-long leaves, which grow upright out of the plant’s center, are smooth and green on the inside and marked by raised white edges on the outer side, giving this succulent its common name. The zebra plant’s small size and tolerance for the lower humidity levels found indoors have led to its popularity as a houseplant. Show it off by itself or mix it in with other succulents.

Care: Plant in well-draining soil and place in a spot that gets bright sunlight for most of the day, such as a south- or east-facing location. A little more sunlight will add a pleasing orangish-red tint to the leaves. If the plant gets too much sun, the leaves will turn white or yellow. It handles normal indoor temperatures from 65 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

Water when the soil dries out from spring to fall, taking care that the leaves don’t get wet. In winter, cut back and water when the leaves start to appear wilted. Feed with a diluted balanced liquid fertilizer once a month from spring to fall.

Tip: H. attenuata, also sold as zebra plant, has white bumps on the inner leaf surface as well as the outer bands of white. It also will grow a little taller. Grow it indoors as you would zebra plant.

The zebra plant may not be big, usually only reaching about 6 inches tall, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in style.

Photo courtesy of Nadja Endler | Photography, Houzz
The zebra plant may not be big, usually only reaching about 6 inches tall, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in style.
Photo courtesy of Covenant LLC, Houzz

6 ways to warm up your kitchen or bath with wood accents

Ways to Warm

Want to warm up your home? See how these different applications of wood can add warmth to your kitchen or bath.

Kitchen

Generous wood detailing. You won’t believe this kitchen transformation when you see it. The island and refrigerator surround have been wrapped in rich, amber-colored wood to bring some warmth to the blue cabinets and slate-colored floor tile.

Wood wall niche. Sometimes while cooking you need a comfortable spot close by to get off your feet for a moment. The wall niche smack dab in this Minnesota kitchen seems like the perfect solution. Wrapping the area in wood brought some additional coziness to the niche and the mostly white kitchen.

Wood floor and furnishings. Weaving in wood accents is a relatively quick and easy way to add warmth to an already established kitchen, such as a rental unit in which you’re not allowed to extensively remodel. That was the case in this Oakland, California, studio loft. To warm up the stainless steel appliances, black cabinetry, and concrete ceiling, the homeowner introduced a rich wood dining table, wood stools, and a wood shelf unit to join the honey-colored wood flooring.

Wood countertop. For an even subtler but still effective approach, take a cue from this light and airy Kansas City, Missouri, kitchen. Blonde birch butcher block countertops soften the crisp white cabinets and subway tile.

Bathroom

Wood storage components. Wood can bring warmth to bathrooms as well. Here, wood was used just on the storage components. Hard surfaces and materials cover almost every inch of the rest of the space, yet the large blocks of flat-paneled maple cabinetry calm the eye.

Subtle wood accent. Entering this New York bathroom, you will see nothing but white Corian countertops and waterfall edge and swaths of blue square tile. Yet if you use the shower or toilet, you’ll get a glimpse of a section of walnut on the vanity, creating a brief moment of visual warmth.

A wood wrapped island warms this space.

Photo courtesy of Covenant LLC, Houzz
A wood wrapped island warms this space.
Photo courtesy of Houzz

4 festive Christmas tree alternatives that will spruce up your home

'Tis the Season

One of the unsung truths of the holiday season is that getting a big, expensive Christmas tree isn’t for everyone. There’s something so cheering and festive about a beautifully decorated tree, but for many reasons — perhaps you travel over the holidays, have a small living space, or simply consider yourself a minimalist — getting a large tree might not be appealing or even possible for you.

Nevertheless, you can still infuse your home with plenty of Christmas spirit. Here are four fun alternatives to a large, decorated cut tree.

1. Put a tree on your wall with ...
Chalk. To celebrate in style, you don’t have to get a real Christmas tree — or even an artificial one. A chalkboard wall can form a backdrop for a simple Christmas tree drawn in white chalk. If you are feeling ambitious, you could add more color with red and green chalk. If you don’t yet have a chalkboard wall, a can of chalkboard paint typically costs less than a large Christmas tree. Plus you’ll have a wall for drawing other festive holiday scenes year-round.

How to Make Your Own Chalkboard Paint

Washi tape. Use this simple tape to make a minimalist tree on your home or apartment wall. Tuck your wrapped presents beneath it for added cheer.

Cut branches. Houzz reader valesga crafted a creative wall tree of cut branches strung together with Christmas lights. You could create a similar arrangement with fallen branches from your backyard or a nearby park.

2. Create a treelike sculpture
“We are gone a lot of weekends in December and find it difficult to keep a fresh tree watered,” says Houzz reader Lynn Martin Dotterer. So instead of getting a live tree, they decorate a ladder. “This ‘tree’ makes for easy storage and is definitely a conversation piece,” Dotterer says.

3. Make it petite and sweet
A small tree can be a festive alternative to the classic large ones — plus you can typically find these trees potted with their roots in place, as opposed to cut. Depending on the type of tree you choose and the climate in your area, you may be able to plant the tree in your yard or even tend to it on your balcony. Perhaps your little tree can grow with you over the years.

That’s exactly what Houzz reader Garineh Dovletian did. “My husband brought this ‘tree’ home 17 years ago for my son’s first Christmas,” Dovletian said. “It was a tiny ‘Charlie Brown’ tree able to hold only one red ornament. The tree has grown with our son over the years and is very special to us.”

Another option is to choose a Norfolk pine, which looks similar to a Christmas tree but is actually a tropical houseplant.

Stylish Plant Stands to Hold Festive Foliage

4. Get a regular tree but keep decorations to a minimum
For those who would like a big, real tree but don’t want to fuss with (or purchase) all that tree decor, Houzz reader rachieleigh sets a great example. “Our tree is in the living room, very minimally decorated. I didn’t have a tree skirt and money is tight this year so I used an old Mexican blanket. I like it so much I plan to always use it in place of a tree skirt!”

Houzz reader Sarah BK faced a similar budgeting dilemma. “First year in our first house, so the budget is low,” she wrote last year. Dried orange slices and cranberries make for a festive, natural look for their tree. “Had to skip a popcorn strand because our pups would think it’s a snack tree.”

Tips for a Fuss-Free Holiday Decorating Season

This washi tape tree is perfect for limited space.

Photo courtesy of Houzz
This washi tape tree is perfect for limited space.

13 essentials for a charming farmhouse-style kitchen

Farmhouse Style

Looking to give your kitchen a dose of down-home charm? Few things capture that aesthetic better than a farmhouse-style approach. To get the look right, here are some of the top signature elements of a farmhouse-style kitchen, reinvented for today.

The basics
Farmhouse style in today’s kitchen is all about creating the look and the atmosphere of a traditional kitchen found on a family farm, with casually mixed ingredients that add up to a special style recipe with lots of humility and a welcoming attitude. Despite being somewhat modest, these kitchens are also incredibly beautiful, carrying a style that exists entirely outside the trends. Plus, they’re quite functional.

Essential: Freestanding furniture
Maybe the No. 1 defining feature of farmhouse style is the use of freestanding furniture, rather than the typical built-in type of cabinets, islands, and appliances you expect to see in more modern kitchen styles.

A furniture-style island, in particular, gives a farmhouse kitchen some of its essential casual appeal. It offers the sense that the room was built over time and has its own personality, rather than having been constructed all at once from a cabinetry catalog. A leggy furniture piece that you can see through also helps the space feel more open, so even the most humbly sized kitchen can feel big enough to do some real home cooking.

The palette
Farmhouse kitchens can come in a range of palettes. After all, the style is meant to show lots of warmth and personality. However, a typical farmhouse kitchen draws from colors and materials you would expect to see in an actual country or farm setting, like brick, stone, wood, and soft welcoming hues.

When dabbling in bursts of color, look to heritage hues that suit the timeless air of this style, rather than ultra-saturated, trendy hues that can feel too modern. Of course, if you prefer a contemporary take on farmhouse style, then feel free to go wild.

Essential: Milk paint
In Colonial America, paint mixed with milk was a popular choice for dressing walls and furnishings, and it gave a special, soft matte finish. These days, actual milk paint is often prized for being environmentally friendly, but even when the real thing isn’t being used, the matte finish and muted colors make great inspiration for farmhouse style.

Matte finishes give a softer sheen that is friendly to imperfections, but they aren’t always easy to wipe clean, so make sure to choose a “washable matte” or something similar. For a surprisingly happy blue-green hue, try Sherwin-Williams’ Waterscape.

Material: Beadboard and paneling
Farmhouse homes are rich with inviting texture, and nothing brings rugged tactility to your walls, floors, and cabinets like beadboard and wood paneling. Whether painted or stained — or clear-coated to show off as much natural grain as possible — the appeal of this simple stripe pattern shines through. Use a looser paneling for a woodsy, cottage-like appeal, or a tighter beadboard for a subtler and more polished take.

How to Use Beadboard Around the Home

Detail: Humble hardware
Many kinds of cabinet hardware can work with farmhouse style, but a top choice is the cup pull, shaped to be perfectly functional and not flashy. You’ll also notice latching pulls on the upper and lower cabinets, which give a historic air and satisfying click when opened and shut.

To avoid having fingerprints show on the hardware, use a brushed or antiqued finish. For pleasing sparkle to balance out other matte surfaces, use a polished steel or brass, as long as you’re ready for just a little more upkeep.

Kitchen Gadgets That for Function and Style

Fixture: Apron-front sink
Another small signature of farmhouse style is the apron-front sink. These sinks come in porcelain, steel, stone, and other materials, and they bring this material to the forefront rather than just inside the cabinet.

This turns the humble and functional sink into a decorative feature, celebrating the hardworking spirit of true farm homes. An apron-front sink needs a special type of cabinet to house it, so if you want to include one, make sure to plan for it early in your renovation process.

Essential: Warm wood
Whether on the floor, the cabinetry, or in little touches like dining stools or a freestanding hutch, warm and inviting wood is practically a must-have in a farmhouse kitchen. Knotty, local woods add lots of rustic character to ensure that your kitchen is unique yet classic. Look to subtle, slightly red or orange stains to bring out the inviting warmth of the wood and reveal the knots and grain.

Material: Weathered metal
There are few better foils to warm wood than crisp metal — and, of course, true farmhouses contain many a metal pail or tool — so it makes sense to find touches of metal in a farmhouse kitchen.

Using too much sleek, polished metal in your space may push the look toward a more modern or transitional sensibility, but don’t be afraid to work with weathered or antiqued metals like galvanized steel, antique brass, or blackened bronze. Add these through light fixtures, storage bins, accessories and brushed-finish appliances.

Splurge: Timeless appliances
If you’re going to splurge in your farmhouse kitchen, one of the best places to do so is on the oven and other large appliances. If you choose too many typical contemporary models, they may seriously interrupt the timeless look. A generously sized and traditional-looking stove suits such a space beautifully.

Detail: Open shelves
Although they may feel like a modern trend, open shelves are actually a classic staple that is both beautiful and functional. Simple floating shelves, or a hutch or island with an open cabinet, give you a spot to display beautiful everyday essentials like pitchers, glassware, or storage jars, along with collectibles or the “guest china,” so you can still enjoy these items every day even when they aren’t in direct use.

Essential: Vintage elements
Speaking of displaying treasured heirlooms, a farmhouse look benefits from the inclusion of some vintage furniture pieces as well. Colorful chairs with worn paint, an antique light fixture, or a well-weathered table bring a sense of history that gives your kitchen a lived-in feel.

Detail: Eat-in kitchen
Not every kitchen has room for a full eat-in space, but if you can work in a small table or even a place to dine on your island, it will bring that perfect sense of welcome to complete your farmhouse look. For extra style, mix and match your seating, and let your guests pull up the chair of their choice.

Like These Ideas? You'll Love This Farmhouse Decor

This kitchen features a rustic table for an island, a tall pantry cabinet, and even a charming Smeg fridge.

Photo courtesy of jPhoto.se, Houzz
This kitchen features a rustic table for an island, a tall pantry cabinet, and even a charming Smeg fridge.
Photo courtesy of Acanthus Architecture PA, Houzz

5 festive ways to dress up your mantel for Thanksgiving

Holiday Cheer

Give your fireplace — or sideboard or dining room table — a little extra love this year with decorations that celebrate the harvest, Thanksgiving, and more. To get your creativity flowing, take a look at these styling ideas, from an arrangement of pumpkins and fall leaves to a collection of branches and feathers.

Fresh and contemporary
Keeping mantel decor simple and inspired by nature gives a fresh feeling to an airy living room. Try a wreath made of leucadendron foliage, lichen-covered twigs, persimmons, and tiny pumpkins. Add creamy yellow and green-striped pumpkins in a row on the mantel. Introducing deeper colors, like leucadendron's burgundy leaves, and bright accents from pumpkins and persimmons can make an otherwise neutral room feel festive for the season.

How to Lay Out a Contemporary Living Room

Minimalist
A spray of green and gold fall leaves and a couple of candles is all that’s needed to make a cozy fireplace feel dressed for the season. To set up your mantel so it’s easy to update for a year-round display, keep it simple and uncluttered, and invest in one standout vase. Over the year, you can fill the vessel with fresh seasonal elements, like cut branches in fall, evergreen conifer boughs in winter, delicate spring blooms, and colorful summer flowers.

Rich and earthy
Create a textured, earthy look by combining a variety of ingredients, concentrating on putting soft, fuzzy, or woven elements (like feathers, fabric, or baskets) in proximity to accessories with smooth, hard, or glossy surfaces (like glass bottles, metal candlesticks, or shiny picture frames).

Rustic cottage
An arrangement of vases and jugs is another example of a mantel display that works year-round. Add a few orange vases to an all-white collection for a welcome jolt of seasonal color.

Get a Statement-Making Vase to Center the Room

Farmhouse style
Use a flat woven basket set on edge to anchor a rustic fall-themed arrangement of pheasant feathers, miniature pumpkins and gourds, brass candlesticks, and sprays of berries. Bonus: Coordinate the table decorations with those on the mantel to tie the whole room together for a fall-themed dinner.

Trendy Table Runners for Your Next Dinner Party

A minimalist mantel with green and gold fall leaves.

Photo courtesy of Acanthus Architecture PA, Houzz
A minimalist mantel with green and gold fall leaves.
Photo by Photo by Chuck Haupt for the American Red Cross

New study shows the financial impact of Harvey and other recent devastating hurricanes

Hurricane Damage

The greatest tragedy exacted by hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, which hammered Texas, the Southeastern United States and the Caribbean in August and September, was the number of people who lost their lives — at latest count at 77 due to Harvey, 132 stemming from Irma and 48 so far in Puerto Rico related to Maria.

And in the aftermath, survivors have been hit with a financial wallop. As part of its latest Houzz Renovation Barometer report, Houzz asked a panel of renovation industry firms about the financial effect of these disasters. While homeowners are facing significant financial impact, businesses, too, are feeling the storm’s financial effects — from a shortage of available workers to project delays. Nonetheless, firms expect a rebound as rebuilding commences. Here’s what we know at this time.

The Houzz Renovation Barometer survey was fielded September 28 to October 12, 2017, and responses were received from 2,241 professionals. Companies in the Houston area estimated the average cost to homeowners to fix damage from Harvey at $111,000 per household, the survey found. One in 10 companies in the Houston area is estimating the total repair and/or renovation costs due to Harvey to be greater than an average of $200,000 per household.

Local Design Build Firms to Help You Recover

For Irma, renovation companies on the Southwestern Florida costal mainland, where the flooding was less severe, estimated the average cost to homeowners to fix damage at $13,000, the survey found.

The professionals on our panel who provided these numbers have businesses in the Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, Texas, metro area for Harvey; and for Irma the Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Sarasota-Bradenton-Venice, Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, Naples-Marco Island, and Punta Gorda, Florida, metro areas. Our panel did not include renovation professionals with offices located in Key West, but businesses in other metro areas on the Florida coast may have served the island.

What to Know Before You Build a House

Over the short term, hurricanes hurt renovation-related businesses, specifically in the first two weeks after these storms made landfall. Forty-one percent of businesses in Irma-affected areas suspended operations during this period, while 28 percent of those in Harvey-affected areas did so. More firms hit by Harvey (91 percent) closed shop for one or more weeks compared to Irma (65 percent).

The survey went out just one week after Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico, and the number of responses from that U.S. territory were limited. But the numbers we do know help tell the story. Nearly a month after the storm hit, the majority of the island still doesn’t have power. A reported one-third of the population still lacks access to clean drinking water. More than 100 people remain missing, and the death count is expected to rise. Moody’s Analytics estimates the island has sustained damage of some $45 to $95 billion. To put those figures into perspective, consider that the island’s annual economic output is $103.1 billion.

How You Can Help After Hurricane Maria

Businesses face challenges but anticipate recovery. Like the homeowners affected by the natural disasters, businesses expect some financial fallout from these storms, but a majority expect to recover within one year. One of the effects of natural disasters on the renovation industry is that many of them will see their businesses boom once people are ready to rebuild. At the same time, the hurricanes worsened labor shortages across the region and increased project backlogs by about two weeks, the survey found.

Businesses face challenges but anticipate recovery. Like the homeowners affected by the natural disasters, businesses expect some financial fallout from these storms, but a majority expect to recover within one year. One of the effects of natural disasters on the renovation industry is that many of them will see their businesses boom once people are ready to rebuild. At the same time, the hurricanes worsened labor shortages across the region and increased project backlogs by about two weeks, the survey found.

Your turn: Do you have friends or family in affected areas? How are your loved ones doing? Please share your photos and stories in the Comments.

Floodwater from Hurricane Harvey rose over 12 feet and ripped off the deck in front of this home in Humble.

Photo by Photo by Chuck Haupt for the American Red Cross
Floodwater from Hurricane Harvey rose over 12 feet and ripped off the deck in front of this home in Humble.
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Fan-favorite, wood-fired Houston pizzeria quietly opens in the Heights

enough (pizza) to love

A popular Houston pizzeria has opened its second location in the Heights. The Gypsy Poet has begun a quiet soft opening in the former Fegen’s space at 1050 Studewood St.

Since its 2019 debut in Midtown, the Gypsy Poet has earned a devoted following for its wood-fired pizzas. The restaurant’s personal-sized, 13-inch pizzas exist somewhere on the spectrum between traditional Neapolitan and classic New York — too crispy for the Italians but not quite foldable like an East Coast slice. Options include a classic Margherita and the signature Fancy Backpacker, which is topped with prosciutto, truffle oil, and arugula.

Part of the restaurant’s appeal stems from its friendly service and easy going atmosphere. It regularly hosts informal musical performances and other artistic happenings.

Taken together, Gypsy Poet has earned legions on fans. Yelp users ranked it as Texas’s second best restaurant in 2021. More recently, Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy awarded it a high 7.8 rating during a pizza review.

The restaurant opens at a time of transition for pizzerias in the Heights. Dallas-based Neapolitan restaurant Cane Rosso closed last year, and suburban favorite Crust Pizza Co. opened this summer in the former Mellow Mushroom space at N. Shepherd and 20th.

The Heights location of Gypsy Poet will be open Tuesday-Thursday from 5-9 pm; Friday from 12-2 pm and 5-10 pm; Saturday 2-10 pm; and Sunday 2-9 pm.

Ken Hoffman predicts how the Houston Astros will fare without award-winning ace Justin Verlander

life after JV

If you’re real quiet, you can almost hear the sighs of relief coming from Houston Astros owner Jim Crane after hearing that Justin Verlander signed with the New York Mets on Monday, December 5.

According to the New York Post, Verlander, a free agent, agreed to a two-year, $86 million deal with the Mets, with a vesting, third-year option for $35 million.

Verlander has been a model citizen and at times an amazing pitcher for the Astros since being traded to Houston in 2017. He won two Cy Young Awards while here (he just landed his historic third) and was instrumental in the Astros two World Series titles, the second earning him baseball's Comeback Player of the Year Award.

Still strong without JV

But the simple fact is, the Astros don’t need him — and certainly don’t need to pay a pitcher turning 40 years old $86 million over the next two seasons. Remember, he also spent almost all of 2020-21 on the injured list with Tommy John surgery.

That’s how loaded the Astros pitching staff is for 2023 and years after. They can say goodbye to the best pitcher in baseball and not sweat the future.

Sometimes a team’s best signings are the ones they don’t make. We don’t know what the Astros offered Verlander to stay, but this sounds like a similar situation to last year when the Astros made a half-hearted effort to keep All-Star shortstop Carlo Correa. Correa eventually signed with the Minnesota Twins and the Astros reloaded with rookie Jeremy Peña.

How’d that work out? The rookie was named MVP of the ALCS and the World Series and won the Gold Glove at short. He also scored a new grill from a celeb jeweler.

Fever pitch

Here’s how the Astros starting pitching lines up for 2023: Framber Valdez; Lance McCullers, Jr.; Cristian Javier; Jose Urquidy; and Luis Garcia — with Hunter Brown waiting in the wings. That should be more than enough and, all things considered, cheap.

Heck, they won 106 games last season, won the AL West by 16 games and roared through postseason 11-2 including the World Series title. And they’ve already signed coveted free agent first baseman Jose Abreu.

While Verlander was simply outstanding during the regular season, the Astros are built for the World Series, where Verlander historically has been disappointing. He entered the 2022 Fall Classic with a 0-6 career mark.

He gave up five runs in five innings in the Astros’ Game 1 loss this year. Verlander got a no-decision. In Game 5 the Astros were wringing their hands hoping he’d go five innings. Verlander gave up one run over five and the Astros won, 3-2, with JV getting his first Series win.

If you were building a team from scratch for 2023, who’d you rather have: Justin Verlander or 29-year-old, quality start machine Framber Valdez?

Verlander, age 40, will make $43 million next year. Valdez, a decade younger, will make one-fourth that. Valdez won both of his World Series starts in 2022.

Pitchers typically don’t get better and healthier after the big 4-0. Not $86 million better.

Looking ahead in the Age of Stupid Money

Of course, this is the Age of Stupid Money, in baseball. Last year, the Mets signed Max Scherzer for $130 million over three seasons. Scherzer won 11 games for the Mets in 2022 and got pummeled, seven runs in 4.2 innings, in his one postseason start.

The Texas Rangers just signed the supposed “best pitcher in baseball,” Jacob deGrom for $185 million over five seasons. Let’s go to the videotape, deGrom has pitched nine full seasons in the big leagues. His record is 82-57. That averages out to 9-6 per injury-riddled season. He was 5-4 last season. In his last three seasons, he’s won 5, 7, and 4 games. That’s worth $185 million? What’s that they say about the best ability … availability?

I know, deGrom has had startling earned run numbers over his career, when he actually gets on the mound. Charlie Pallilo and I have had a long-running argument. He says a pitcher’s value is based on earned run average and other statistics that can melt your mind. I say there’s only one stat that counts – wins. Jacob deGrom is not the best pitcher in baseball. The best pitcher last season was Justin Verlander, right up to the end.

And then he wasn’t.

With the Astros “saving” $86 million over the next two years, they can focus on filling needs in the outfield. It will be easier to find money to keep Yuli Gurriel and Michael Brantley. The Astros can plan ahead for José Altuve and Alex Bregman becoming free agents after the 2024 season, and Kyle Tucker and Framber Valdez a year later. Those guys won’t come cheap.

In the age of Stupid Money, that sounds like smart money.

Acclaimed Austin pizzeria and Miami kebab-burger restaurant fire up first Houston locales in Memorial City

major memorial city moves

The Memorial City area will soon be home to two rapidly expanding restaurant brands. Austin-based pizzeria Via 313 and and Miami-based burger and kebab concept Pincho will join Velvet Taco and Goode Co. Seafood in the shopping center at 10201 Katy Fwy.

Houstonians who travel to Austin will recognize Via 313, which has earned wide acclaim for its Detroit-style pizzas. The rectangular-shaped, deep dish pies feature a rim of a crispy cheese along the crust. Originally founded as a food trailer by brothers Zane and Brandon Hunt, Via 313 has grown to seven Texas locations as well as outposts in Colorado and Utah. In August, it opened its first San Antonio location.

Pincho has achieved similar success in south Florida with its Latin American-inspired kebabs, which are called pinchos. Five different proteins, including chicken, shrimp, and steak, are paired with sides such as rice and beans or tostones and served as platters. The restaurant also serves well-regarded burgers along with bowls and salads. Founded in 2010, it has eight locations in the greater Miami area.



Slated to open in spring 2023, both restaurant come to Houston via their partnerships with Savory, the food and beverage arm of Utah-based investment firm Mercato Partners. Savory partnered with Via 313 in 2020 and with Pincho in 2021. Earlier this year, the private equity firm selected Houston Vietnamese restaurant Saigon Hustle as the winner of its Million Dollar Restaurant Launch competition.

“Memorial City is a great spot for the hottest developments, and we can’t wait to add Via 313 and PINCHO to the mix,” Savory vice president of brand development and strategy Alonso Castañeda said in a statement. “The standout community is a dining destination and a clear choice for our expansion. We know locals and visitors alike will fall in love with our vibrant spaces, bold flavors, and addictive menus. From Via 313’s Detroit-style pizza to Pincho's Miami-born burgers, we’re bringing the heat to Houston.”

The Memorial City area has been on an upswing as a dining destination. In addition to the recent opening of Velvet Taco, the area will soon see additions such as Common Bond and Montrose-based barbecue joint The Pit Room.

“We are excited that Memorial City will be first to bring both of these award-winning restaurants to our city,” Danna Diamond, vice president of retail leasing for Memorial City owner MetroNational added. “The fact that Food & Wine Magazine has touted Via 313 as ‘one of the best pizzas’ and Pincho is considered by Miami News Times as ‘one of the top 10 best burgers’ is a testament of how much Houstonians are going to love experiencing these new flavors.”